“Full-time Twitch streamer” is one of those “They get paid to do that?” jobs, like “professional clown.” While you understand that it’s a thing, the gig seems like a frivolous fantasy, so far removed from the world of cubicles and conference rooms that you might have a hard time believing it’s real. But once you do believe it, it seems like a dream job, and you might start wondering how to get your foot in the door… or the giant shoe, as the case may be.
Zach Arenson (aka Goobers515) is a Twitch Partner, one of about 15,000 hand-picked by the network for a cut of the revenue the streamers generate through ads, cheers, and subs. Many Partners, including Zach, are able to support themselves largely on their Twitch income. (This summer, Twitch introduced the Affiliate program, which opens the purse to a wider range of streamers with smaller followings.) I spoke with Zach recently, and he shared some of the secrets to his success, though he was careful to warn me that everyone’s path is different. Still, a lot of what he said is universally applicable if you’re looking to stream as a full-time job.
Zach was treading water at a user-interface design job he hated in Iowa, and started streaming for fun. “I said, I’m gonna give this a shot,” he told me. “Really see what it’s like. I’m not going to put any emphasis on making it a ‘success,’ I’m just gonna do it.” Sounds simple, but getting over your fear of failure and actually beginning something new can be scary. Face your fear and just start.
Those three words, advice that legendary Twitch streamer Ezekiel_III once gave Zach, have served him well. “I’m the loud guy on Twitch,” Zach said. “I yell and yell and yell and yell and yell. And there are dumb things that normal people wouldn’t be excited about, but I’m like, ‘No, be excited about this, this is great. Join in with the rest of us, let’s be excited about it together.’”
You don’t have to be “the loud guy,” but figure out your own thing. “Whatever makes you weird, play that up,” Zach said. If you look around the streaming landscape, you’ll see that everyone who is successful is doing exactly that.
During the roughly 30 minutes I spoke with Zach, the one word he used more than any other was “community.” His vast network of friends, fans, and fellow streamers are of course worth more than cash, but they’re also crucial to his bottom line. Two of his channel’s moderators, a married couple in Seattle, learned that Zach didn’t love his job, so they invited him to move into their extra room, rent-free: “They said, all you gotta do is come out here, get a [day] job, [eventually] get the hell out of our house, and pay it forward.”
In a way, this was Zach’s “big break,” but it wasn’t glamorous at all. No media mogul threw money and contracts at him; two friends just offered him an 8’x10’ room for a finite amount of time. There was no guarantee it would lead to anything, but it turned out to be pivotal in affording him the time and space he needed to build his following. While the details of this situation are specific to Zach, there’s no telling what life-changing favors your friends and fans might someday offer you.
After Zach moved in with his Seattle friends, he resumed streaming while he hunted for a new UX job. A year went by with no luck on the job front, but he kept streaming. By the end of that year, he was a Twitch Partner. He attributes his partnership to his ever-growing number of followers as well as “content that keeps Twitch on its toes,” as he put it, including Players On Strike and other shows that explore territory beyond Twitch’s “gamer with a webcam” mainstay. After looking at what partnership was bringing in, Zach told me, “I looked at my money, and I said, ‘I think I can make this a full-time job.’” Job hunt over.
Zach no longer needed a day job, but now he entered a new kind of rat race. “It’s almost required to have a multitude of income streams to exist as a full-time caster,” Zach said. “I have my Twitch subs, I have a GameWisp, which is essentially Patreon but specialized for Twitch, I have a tip button, merchandise, and sponsored or paid events here and there.” He’s even started doing “creative streams,” making art on camera and selling it.
When Amazon shelled out $1 billion for the network in 2014, many longtime streamers were wary, but the acquisition has been great for them. Anyone with an Amazon Prime account is eligible for a free Twitch Prime membership, and that helps streamers immensely. Twitch Prime offers one free channel subscription, and whatever lucky streamer you bestow that on gets money every month. Viewers can pay for additional subscriptions, but that first one is just free money. What’s better than that?
With a lot of talent, persistence, and luck, Zach escaped a dead-end job and transformed his life for the better. There was no magic to it other than hard work, which Zach continues to put in day after day. “I’m more happy now than I was then, and I’m able to use my creativity to the fullest extent,” he told me. “Who knows how long it’ll go, but until then, I guess, like, wheeeee!”
Tony Carnevale is a senior writer for Studio@Gizmodo.